Sometimes I get all tingly inside when we get to review a new book in a brand-new series, and this is one of those times. Amanda Flower, whom you might know as Isabella Alan, author of the Amish Quilt Shop Mysteries, is introducing a new series that includes a little bookshop, a little magic, a little mystery, and most importantly for our purposes, a little cat. It’s called the Magical Bookshop Mystery series, and it is a joy to read.
Deception and death
Crime and Poetry begins with a lie, basically, but this lie has a benevolent purpose behind it. Violet Waverly has returned home to Cascade Springs, New York, because she thinks her grandmother is gravely ill. She thinks this because that’s what Grandma Daisy told her, but when she arrives, there’s Grandma Daisy, just as healthy as could be.
This is upsetting, naturally, because Violet has a lot of stuff going on back in Chicago, where she is trying to finish her dissertation in American literature. She’s really busy with the Transcendentalists and doesn’t have time to hang out in her grandmother’s shop, Charming Books—where there’s a resident crow named Faulkner and a live birch tree growing through the building, and “where the perfect book picks you.” She has other reasons for not wanting to stay, and they’re the really unpleasant kind involving the death of her best friend years ago.
So that’s one death Violet has to deal with, but there’s another one coming soon, and it all starts when the perfect book picks someone (just as the store promises). Unfortunately, the book is a collection of Emily Dickinson’s poetry that stubbornly draws its recipient’s attention to the lines “Because I could not stop for Death, He kindly stopped for me.” Also unfortunately, the person the book chooses happens to be Grandma Daisy’s gentleman friend, Benedict. It chooses him by flying off the shelf and banging into his knee, which is not very polite, but it sure gets your attention.
The next morning Benedict is found dead in Grandma Daisy’s driveway, with Grandma Daisy’s scarf wrapped around his neck. If you think this sounds rather ominous for Grandma Daisy, you are correct. Now, with her grandmother a suspect in a murder investigation, Violet decides she will stay in Cascade Springs just long enough to clear her name. There really is no other choice.
The cat and the Caretaker
You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned the cat yet, and that is because he does not appear until Violet and Grandma Daisy go to Benedict’s house after Benedict’s unfortunate demise. It turns out that Benedict had a black-and-white tuxedo cat named Emerson. Violet and Emerson quickly become friends.
I have also not mentioned the real reason Grandma Daisy lured Violet home in the first place. As you will have guessed by now, Charming Books is not your ordinary bookshop. It is a magical shop, and every such shop needs a caretaker. In this case. Grandma Daisy has been the Caretaker for years, and she is ready to pass on those duties to Violet—who wants nothing to do with it, and who seriously doubts that the shop is somehow giving her messages through the Emily Dickinson books it keeps throwing in her path.
She had us at “Magical Bookshop”
As I wrote in the very first paragraph, Crime and Poetry is a joy to read. The book is nicely plotted, with just enough complexity to keep things interesting without becoming confusing. Violet’s story has a rich texture that makes her seem very real—and very likeable. It’s easy to sympathize with her as she faces the ghosts of her past and struggles with what will certainly be the most important decision of her life: Chicago or Cascade Springs? All this while she takes in the poor cat of a dead man, inserts herself into a mystery that will surely turn out to be more than she bargained for, and tangles with the police chief (who happens to be handsome and smart, and writes children’s books—can you say “dishy”?).
We are already hooked on the Magical Bookshop Mystery series. As the heading above says, she had us at “Magical Bookshop.” Come on, who wouldn’t want to run—even vicariously—a magical bookshop with an awesome tree and a spiral staircase in it, plus a resident crow and a pretty terrific cat? Where do we sign up?
Crime and Poetry is set for release on April 5, 2016.
A note on the "Paws Up" system: Miss C gives either one or two paws up. One paw is for a good read; two paws is for a great read. She never gives three or four paws because that would require her to lie on her back...and Miss C does not do that!